It seems likely that the very earliest agriculture, domesticated cultivation, was invented by women in the hunter-gatherer culture, since they had the primary duty of “gathering” food from natural sources. It would have encouraged them to cultivate to produce more with less effort and control the types of crops
Ever since, women have born the double duty of feeding the whole family or even tribe while birthing and caring for an excessive number of children, often at the cost of their health and life-style. Today, it seems to me, such a large share of the Earth’s population lives in paternalistic cultures in which women are given enormous responsibility and only meager authority over their own lives that their role in agriculture can not be separated from their cultural environment.
In industrial/democratic societies, therefore, what we can look for, at least in part, is what remaining cultural practices or conditions inhibit or burden women trying to farm. We start with the recognition that one important advance has been property rights equally available and shared for women, although not always easily secured when traditions favor male ownership or something like primogeniture.
Two factors stand out as critical to improving opportunities for women in agriculture. One is access to adequate capital to finance whatever level of equipment and basic supplies they need for the type of farming they intend to do. A second is a social system that can compensate for the birthing and care of children.
First, we have seen the growing provision of microloans for women who can use as little as $50. to change their economic role and lives substantially. Farming in many cases may require more than most microloans, but rural banks and financial programs must be funded more based on the types of business opportunities women identify and whatever barriers or hesitation lenders might feel must be overcome.
Second, birth planning and control needs to be available to every woman interested in establishing her own farm. With some control over her pregnancies, a woman farmer will next need social support for her children, including pre-school care, health care, such as vaccinations and diet, and transportation to and from school. Free of childcare demands for several hours per day, a woman can make enormous progress in earning a living and caring for the whole family.